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Sad farewell to Rodney as park’s ‘Big Bird’ dies from liver cancer

Fans want a plaque to remember Rhea who died of liver cancer

08 January, 2021 — By Tom Foot


A PLAQUE may be put up to celebrate the life of Rodney, the Greater Rhea bird which was kept in Golders Hill Park, after he died from liver cancer.

Also known by many as ‘Big Bird’ after its likeness to Sesame Street character, Rodney bestrode the park’s main enclosure like a colossus, living peacefully among deer and stags for at least 17 years. Originally from South America, he was given to the park from London Zoo.

Linda Sawyers, who was on her regular walk around the park this week, said: “I feel so sad about Big Bird, I feel like he’s been part of my life for many years. My children have grown-up with him and every time we go to the park we would see him and say hello.”

She added: “You had to keep your distance because he could take a swipe at you. “He was just amazing, completely unlike anything else you see really. “This is just a terrible end to a terrible year. I know there are a lot of people who feel the same. They’ve taken down the sign about him now on the fence. But there should be a plaque or even a statue – he would make a good statue.”

Often confused with an emu or an ostrich, the gangly Greater Rhea hails from the arid grasslands of Argentina and Uruguay, where it claims the title of the continent’s largest bird. The name comes from Greek mythology in which Rhea is considered the mother of the gods.

The species – known for its fluffy tattered plumage – is listed as “near threatened” by conservationists. It is known for territorial low-booming noises during the mating season and a zig-zag running style to evade predators, normally cougars and jaguars in the wild.

The New Journal understands tests on the Rhea were delayed because of the impact of Covid. Large zoo animals are normally assessed at a specialist centre run by the Royal Veterinary College, which is based in Camden Town.

The Rhea’s blood ended up being sent to Sheffield for analysis before a decision was taken to put the bird down. His body was later cremated.

A spokesman for the City of London Corporation, which manages the park and Hampstead Heath, said: “Sadly Rodney was sick, and had to be put down. He spent happy years living with our animal friends at Golders Hill Park.”


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